The White House signaled today that President Obama, who has seldom shown much appetite to fight with the powerful National Rifle Association, did not intend to make a push for stricter gun controls in the wake of the shootings in Aurora, Colo.
"The president's views on this are, as he has stated and as he spelled out in the op-ed that was published in an Arizona newspaper, which is that he believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons," White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Air Force One as the president flew to Colorado.
The op-ed to which Carney referred was published in the Arizona Star in March 2011, two months after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., in which six people were killed and 13 - including now former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords - were wounded. The president in that op-ed called for a focus on "sound and effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place."
This included a push to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with better state data by rewarding those states that "provide the best data - and therefore do the most to protect our citizens," and making the system "faster and nimbler" with "an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it."
This wouldn't have had any impact on the alleged Aurora shooter, since James Holmes had no criminal record, save for one speeding ticket. All indications are that he purchased his weapons perfectly legally.
"The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law," Carney said. "And that's his focus right now."
Many Democratic officeholders - and voters - in key battleground states oppose gun control. On CNN this morning, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said, "if it wasn't one weapon, it would have been another. I mean, he was diabolical. If you look at what he had in his apartment and what his intentions were… If there were no assault weapons available, and no this or no that, this guy is going to find something, right? He's going to know how to create a bomb."
Asked about the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, which might have covered one of the weapons used by the shooter, and perhaps a large capacity ammunition feeding device, Carney suggested that there was no new push for the ban to be renewed.
"The President is focused on doing the things that we can do that protect Second Amendment rights, which he thinks is important, but also to make it harder for individuals who should not, under existing law, have weapons to obtain them," Carney repeated.
Asked if the president believed "gun control should now have sort of a larger role in the campaign," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "I think this stage where this is so fresh and new for so many people, including the people in Colorado, who are still mourning the loss of their loved ones, will be for a long time, many people are still recovering, we're still learning what exactly happened here and more details - that's where our focus is right now. And so it's really too early to say how this will play. And again, we're just taking it day by day. That's what our focus is today."
- Jake Tapper